Tippecanoe River State Park
A seven-mile stretch of the Tippecanoe River forms the eastern boundary of this large, low-lying park. The Tippecanoe River bears an “outstanding” designation bestowed by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and the Nature Conservancy lists it as among the “top ten rivers in America to preserve”. Between them, the park and river are home to the rare Eastern massasauga rattlesnake, several endangered species, and nearly fifty species of freshwater mussel. The park also served as a site for the reintroduction of river otters to our state.
There are numerous trails, though most allow horseback riding, and many are prone to flooding, especially in areas close to the Tippecanoe River. Of those restricted to hikers, I recommend trail 8 and parts of trails 4 and 5. Trail 8, the Bluestem Trail, is a loop through the Sand Hill Nature Preserve, near the northern end of the park. From the small parking area across from Tepicon Hall, the trail traverses pineries, oak savannas, and forest glades on a wide well-defined path of pine needles, sand, or temporary pools. Traffic noise may intrude on stretches where the trail approaches US 35.
Trails 4 and 5 both pass through parts of the Tippecanoe River Nature Preserve, which lies along the river’s edge. This is prime habitat for the Eastern massasauga rattlesnake. Minton (2001) writes that adult massasaugas are typically no more than about 30 inches long, with two feet being a typical length. They occur in both very dark forms and a more common strongly spotted form. Photos suggest that their heads are also rather narrow, without the triangular shape that seems typical for many other rattlesnakes.
Though you’re unlikely to see a massasauga (at least I never have), something else of interest will probably turn up. Unfortunately, a ramshackle campground perched on the opposite bank somewhat mars views of the Tippecanoe River. Take trail 4 north from the nature center parking lot, then turn right at the junction with trail 5, following it as it shadows the inside of a bend in the river. After completing the loop, I generally return whence I came, as trails 3 and 4 pass too close to the state park’s campground for my taste.